5 More Ways I Saved Money in Tokyo

The five Tokyo money saving tips in this post are related to site-seeing, food, and shopping. For advice regarding accommodations and transportation, please see the aforementioned article. 


1. Rent a portable wi-fi device or prepaid SIM card

A portable wi-fi device.
If you don't have a phone plan or SIM card that is usable overseas, you will definitely benefit from renting a portable wi-fi device or prepaid SIM card. Naturally, every train station in Tokyo has a detailed map of the area, and there are guide maps in most major neighborhoods; however, you do not want to rely on these when you have a long walk and need to reference a map with your location in realtime. Having stable Internet access while on the go will also allow you to track train or bus arrival times.

I went the portable wi-fi route. There are many companies to choose from when renting a device, and after reading several reviews online, I chose Japan Wireless. Admittedly, I was a little put off by their 1998-style website design, but their service was top notch, and if I ever have the need in the future, I would use them again. I requested that my device be sent to my accommodations before my arrival, so it was waiting for me my first day in Tokyo. It came with a nifty portable charger so I was able to charge the device and my phone while I was out and about. Conveniently, I simply had to place the device in a pre-addressed, prepaid envelope sent with my initial package and drop it in the mailbox at the airport in order to return it!

2. Pick an area of Tokyo and stay there until you return to "home base"

The artificial island of Odaiba makes for a great day trip as
there are several attractions and places to eat.
Planning ahead each day saved me money on transportation big time. If you leave the neighborhood where you're staying, travel to one section of town, and return to your accommodations, you won't spend much on transportation at all. While the average one-way subway ride in Tokyo is only about $1.50 to $3.00, zig-zagging across town all day will add up. The attractions in Tokyo are so plentiful that spending the entire day in one area of town will not bore you. Take the Shibuya-Shinjuku area for instance. After posing by Hatchiko, crossing the famous Shibuya puzzle crosswalk, shopping at one of the many malls, going to NHK headquarters, visiting Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine, strolling Takeshita Street, and having dinner at Robot Restaurant, are you really going to have time to see another area of town? (Kudos if you can accomplish that in one day!)

If you must visit two or more districts in one day, I'd advocate staying on the same subway line. For example, it isn't so farfetched to spend the day in Ikebukuro then go to Tokyo Station for dinner because you just have to hop on the Marunouchi Line, but going from Shibuya to Asakusa might not be a smart decision. 

3. Seek free/cheap attractions rather than expensive sites

Riding to the top of Tokyo Skytree might be fun,
but there are a number of free observatories in the city.
Tokyo is one of my favorite cities because a walk through one of the many neighborhoods felt like touring to me. There was always something interesting going on, especially in the busy or "hip" neighborhoods like Harajuku and Akihabara.

Nevertheless, part of vacation is seeing specific sites. Luckily, I found that most shrines and museums were cheap (less than $10) or free. If you would like to visit Tokyo Disney or make your way out of town to climb Mt. Fuji, you'll need to shell out some cash for the ticket and supplies, respectively. Of course, those are not destinations for the budget traveler!

Going to the top of Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower wouldn't be a smart use of money either, neither is it logical in my opinion. If you're at the top of one of those towers for the purpose of seeing the entire city and taking pictures, you won't get one or the other tower in your shot! Instead, I suggest you visit one of Tokyo's many free or very cheap observation areas (e.g., Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, 45th floor; Bunkyo Civic Center, 25th floor).

Food & shopping

4. Get food/snacks from the grocery store

Breakfast food and snack haul.
Sweet potato tempura and half a pack
of vegetables (the whole pack was under $3)
from the grocery store with
udon from Lawson's.
Before you set foot in Tokyo, locate the nearest grocery stores to your accommodations on Google Maps. You may be wondering, why go to the grocery store when I can go to the convenience store? Well (like I noticed in Taiwan), convenience food found in both convenience and grocery stores are commonly cheaper at the latter place. While it's easy to pop into a convenience store and buy something, you are being charged for the convenience!

Additionally, you will find a larger variety of snacks and convenience food in the grocery store. I don't worry too much about my diet when I'm on vacation, but I do like to have a healthy breakfast and snacks in my bag so I don't set off for my day hungary or feel hungary when I'm walking around. You should feel happy and comfortable when you're site-seeing, not hangry! Grocery stores in Tokyo have pre-made vegetables for a great price. Of course, if you'd like to prepare healthy meals for yourself you'd do well to rent an apartment or hostel with a kitchen area (see my previous post).

If you do find yourself in a convenience store, I recommend you go to Lawson's. Compared to other chains in Tokyo, I feel Lawson's has the most variety of both snacks and pre-prepared meals.

Tip: If you go the grocery store at night , you'll find most of the produce and sushi on sale as they'll go bad by the end of the day!

5. Don't bring much/anything if you plan to shop 

Going to Tokyo on a budget doesn't mean excluding shopping trips; conversely, you'll have more money for them because you will have saved in other areas! 

My daily hauls were this size or bigger!
Each dress was just under $6.
Aside from necessities (e.g., your phone, computer, medication, etc.), I'd strongly advise against bringing anything with you to Tokyo. If you like clothes shopping and you're on the smaller side, you can make it with an outfit or two and buy the rest of your clothes in the city for cheap, especially in Harajuku and Nakano Broadway. I'm a US 4-6 and fit in most size XS-S tops (I have broad shoulders but a small bust). I didn't have much difficulty buying tops, skirts, and dresses (especially sleeveless) in Taiwan where I lived or Tokyo, but finding suitable shorts and pants was basically impossible for me in both countries! I have size 8.5 feet, and while I know my size exists somewhere in Tokyo, I wasn't going to spend hours trying to locate shoes. Therefore, I'd say know your body type and plan your shopping accordingly. However, there are many stores in Japan now for plus-sized girls, like Punyus. I stopped by Punyus in Shibuya 109, and the clothes are super cute and high-quality, albeit out of my budget. Sorry I don't have any info regarding clothes for men!

I recognize not everyone is into clothes and fashion. Nonetheless, no matter what your hobby is, I guarantee there is a specialty store for it in Tokyo! I'm personally an avid old Japanese CD aficionado so I went to three Book Off locations and bought several CDs from each one to add to my collection. I also like matcha (抹茶), a type of green tea, so I stocked up on matcha snacks. Since I didn't stuff my suitcase, I had ample room to carry back all my new things.

I hope this mini series has been informative. Look out for more posts regarding Tokyo in the future!

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